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Andy Francis (Mr. Price of Sexual Desire himself) Responds to the Critics

Our latest Freakonomics column described a recent academic paper by Andy Francis. I asked him to respond to the comments that have been raised on our blog (see here). He was kind enough to oblige.

Here is what Andy has to say:

Thank you for all your comments. They were insightful, and I enjoyed reading them. Let me take a moment to comment on some of the themes that have emerged. Generally, I want to emphasize that the paper analyzes changes in sexuality *at the margin*. As the article and paper make clear, not everyone may respond to the AIDS epidemic, and those who respond may not respond in the same way. Nothing that I find is inconsistent with biology still playing a significant role. It is just that biology is not the whole story.

On stigma:

A few people have suggested that the findings may be attributable to stigma-related survey bias. That is, male respondents who have a relative with AIDS are especially stigmatized and are, hence, more likely to distort their survey responses to avoid appearing homosexual. While stigma is a real phenomenon, I don’t believe that stigma can rationalize the findings taken together. The following is an excerpt from page 28 of the paper: “First, male respondents who have a relative with AIDS freely admit to ever having done anything sexual with a man. Second, there is no evidence that men who have a relative with AIDS live in a social environment that is less tolerant of homosexuality. Having a relative with AIDS is uncorrelated with opinion of homosexuality (see Table 3). … Third, the NHSLS design ensures confidentiality and builds trust in a way which minimizes stigma, e.g. self-administered questionnaires cover sensitive topics. Fourth, it would be difficult for respondents to distort survey responses about children and marriage to a woman. Fifth, stigma does not rationalize why men who have a relative with AIDS are more likely to report ever having had anal sex with a woman. Sixth, evidence on the change in sexual behavior over time … is unrelated to having a relative with AIDS, but echoes the instrumental variables results. Lastly, stigma-related survey bias does not explain why women who have a relative with AIDS are more likely to report homosexual desire.”

On sample size:

Clearly, sample size is an issue. I try to do as much as I can with the data that exist. Whenever possible, I report small sample hypothesis tests (exact p-values). I believe that it is the pattern of results (not any one variable) that makes the case.
Take a look at all of the homosexual behavior, desire, and identity variables for men and women, in addition to the findings on anal sex with women,
ever having done anything sexual with someone of the same gender, the time series evidence on male homosexual behavior (before and after the invention of the AIDS “cocktail”), and homosexual behavior in the pre- and post-AIDS eras.

On politics:

The findings do not imply, in any sense, that homosexuality is morally wrong. This is a positive, not normative, paper. I do not want others to misconstrue my findings. All members of society deserve equality and respect. Virtually all liberal theories support this notion. I do not believe that it is necessary that sexual orientation be entirely biologically determined for homosexuals and bisexuals to merit and obtain equality and respect.

On the ambiguous illustration:

I too find the illustration quite puzzling. My current hypothesis is that the dashed lines represent a plot of economic variables over time. But maybe not.